28 February 2007

Out of range



In this article, Bronwen Maddox claims that it's best to talk to the Taleban rather than fight them, because fighting them is all too hard.

Negotiated settlements are usually best if they're on offer, which they're not in modern Afghanistan. All the wank surrounding "holding talks" is less repulsive than a pile of corpses. However, negotiation with the Taleban and al-Qaeda is not possible. Western forces and moderate Muslims should destroy them, and with them the desire for a fundamentalist Islamic order brought into being by terror and bloodshed.

If they fear being destroyed, then let them come to the negotiating table cap-in-hand, as Adams and McGuinness did when the IRA was dying on its feet.

It is the most woolly nonsense to assume the Taleban may negotiate peace with those they have sworn to destroy. If indeed the British Foreign Secretary faces, as Maddox asserts, "the prospect of one day talking to the Taleban" then she is a fool. The Pakistani and Afghan governments cannot deal with the Taleban - indeed, Maddox cites Musharraf's failed deal on blocking foreign fighters into this area, but fails to appreciate how it completely undermines her whole point.

[Musharraf's] army is under such strain partly because of the separate tribal unrest in Baluchistan, a patch of trouble Musharraf ought to settle quickly and through political means, answering their grievances about their share of local gas revenues.

Well Bronwen, if he's been knocked on his backside and roundly mocked by the bad guys, how do you rate his chances of getting a deal to stick? What do you think they'd do with all that dough from gas, hmm?

In the cat-and-mouse game of Muslim conquerors throughout history, the Taleban do not speak from a unified position and they renege on undertakings whenever they feel like it. All who make possible organised violence from a fundamentalist Islamic motivation are Taleban.

A better understanding of the difference between locals and blow-ins, and smarter cultivation of the former and targetting of the latter, will make Afghanistan and the wilder fringes of Pakistan less receptive to the Taleban and al-Qaeda than they are. Maddox identifies this shortcoming but glosses over its importance in securing a lasting solution. Negotiation with an undisclosed spokesperson from a mobile phone would be fatuous, an exercise in both the impotence of Western institutions and in enhancing the wily Taleban as they play for time - time the Westerners don't have.

"There is no other possible position [fighting, not talking] on a day when a suicide bomber, claimed by the Taleban as one of theirs, tried to kill Dick Cheney, the US Vice-President, at Bagram airbase near Kabul." Once you understand that such days are more typical than days of extended chats and commitments kept, the whole thing will hopefully become clearer to you Bronwen.

Afghanistan is one of the main games in the war on terror (Iraq isn't). Talks are an option after the Taleban have been destroyed as an operational force, not before.

26 February 2007

Maxine McKew in Bennelong



Let's accept that Maxine McKew is the next Labor candidate for Bennelong. Now that it's been announced there's too much at stake for the wide boys of the NSW ALP not to get their way. Farewell Pierre Esben, we hardly knew ya - but keep an eye out for any cushy jobs to which this Parramatta City Councillor might be appointed.

If Labor were really serious about winning Bennelong - and I mean steely-eyed, nothing's-gonna-stop-us serious - they would have chosen John Watkins. Watkins has the profile, both at high-level policy-driven politics as well as at the grassroots in that area. He would have tied Howard down and given encouragement to both Rudd and Costello. Of course he'll show McKew where the pressure points in that electorate are, and he is the fallback option if she falls over.

Will McKew beat Howard? The answer to that depends on a lot of factors that can't be dependably forseen this far out from the election. While the Rudd honeymoon can't last, it's unlikely that voters will be as bored with him as they were with Beazley, or as repelled as with Latham. Howard and Costello might pull out some super spending proposals, but they might go absolutely nowhere politically if voters have stopped listening to them. It's possible that another catastrophe like September 11 will cause the electoral pendulum to jerk suddenly this way or that.

The polls are based on a false premise. "If there was an election held last weekend ..." - yeah but there wasn't an election last weekend was there, nor was there 4-6 weeks of concentrated hoo-ha before that. It might be as much as you have to go on, it might even be necessary, but it is not sufficient.

The real unknown factor here is McKew herself. She says, "public life matters. It's the main game", but it depends what you mean by public life. Is public life the big-ticket items in the budget, committing troops to battle - or is it speeches and glad-handing at Truscott Street Public School, Epping Rugby Club, and/or St Therese's Church Denistone?

Howard does the latter very well indeed. This quality is often underestimated in him; big-time MSM reporters like Maxine McKew barely regard it as worth mentioning except in patronising terms. Howard doesn't have charisma as such - not in the Kidman/Clooney sense, but in a room or a shopping centre he does exude energy and he gets energy from interacting with people. By sheer graft he can make people feel important: you can sneer at the person who feels strangely empowered that the Prime Minister of Australia shook my hand, but all that sneering hasn't dislodged him from office yet.

Does Maxine McKew identify with people? McKew seems like a nice person on telly, but it is possible for someone to seem nice while actually being a swine once the cameras are off. What would kill McKew in Bennelong is an insensitivity to ordinary people.

Is she going to listen to some old person bang on about their operations, or weather the blast of some parent frustrated by issues that public policy alone can't really fix? Is she going to interrupt a voter in mid-sentence to take a mobile phone call from Kevin Rudd?

Bennelong is a very churchy area: if she takes the Lord's name in vain in a flash of anger/frustration, if some wild and scabrous story comes out from twenty years before, this will count for a lot with Bennelong voters - more than it warrants perhaps, but on election night such an event will make itself felt.

Maybe she'll count on the Old Mates' Club of the parliamentary press gallery to close ranks for her - she's be dreaming, particularly if one of the local rags breaks a story (and if she disdains said rags as beneath her, then she's finished).

McKew has seen political careers rise and fall, but that's not the same as being in the game yourself.

The worst-case scenario for Labor and McKew in six months from now is if she's wounded, she's bored, the gloss will be gone and Howard will run rings around her, campaigning hither and yon across the nation utterly unconcerned about his own seat. A whispering campaign in the area of "I met that Maxine McKew and she's a cold fish/nasty piece of work" will ensure that whatever glamour she brings to the contest does not translate into votes.

Memo to Bennelong Liberals: you could start a whispering campaign yourselves, but people in the community who know you well enough to hear you out about McKew will also know that you're Liberals, and that you would say that. Still, give it a go, and leave Howard to wear the backlash; besides, you didn't get where you are by listening to me.

The best-case scenario, of course, is that which the papers are full of today: high-profile, will give Howard a run for his money. Some run, some money.

21 February 2007

Zimbabwe against the world


It's interesting to see the rhetoric that people use in lining up one way or another on the big issues, and how the various worldviews apply - or don't apply - to that part of the world known as Zimbabwe.

The dictator of Zimbabwe, Mugabe, is a nasty little t├╝rd who is driving his people into misery, poverty and early death. Nothing good can be said for such an individual. May that long-suffering country soon dispatch him beyond this world in order that they may survive in this. More power to those who work against him; even those who shield him from the inevitable are doing Zimbabwe a service, however indirectly or unwittingly.

Not having been there, I can't do much to help the opposition to Mugabe. If I wanted to speak out or act against Bush, or Blair, or Howard, big organisations would sweep me up in warm embrace. There'd be demos to join, chants to yell, petitions to sign, letters to write, all that stuff. Where is your anti-Mugabe movement? Here is a grand cause for a demo. Nobody defends the bastard, and all decent people stand against him. Whaddawe want, whendawe wannit ... hello? Anyone? Hardly what I'd call "fever pitch".

Mugabe is nominally socialist in an era where this is irrelevant for all but a few on the commanding heights of newspaper opinion pieces. Mugabe isn't white and he does a solid line of invective against Tony Blair. His opponents seem to be bourgeois neo-kulaks and centrist do-gooders, and where is the old Trot who doesn't love giving such a bit of stick?

The left have always fancied themselves as being unrelentingly anti-fascist, but this was never true. As long as you get your rhetoric right, the Western left will forgive you much - particularly if you say one thing in charmingly broken English, and another thing in your native tongue to break people in a thoroughly uncharming way. This ruse worked for Arafat, it worked for Castro and Ortega and Gaddafi and Mobutu, and basically any tinpot scumbag with an army and a flag. Saddam Hussein had plenty of fans in the Western left. Even ratbags without flags, armies or much of a clue, like Baader-Meinhof or the Black Panthers, were fawned over and insulated from rightist assaults. Now that those guys are dead (Hussein, Arafat), cowed beneath the Western yoke (Ortega, Gaddafi) or enjoying their pelf in exile (Mobutu), surely they'd turn their lonely eyes to you, Mugabe. But, it would appear, no.

If you're the sort of sorry soixante-huitard wanker who thrills every time Castro and Chavez (but not so much when they imprison/execute dissidents), then surely you'd stick by Mugabe like shit to a blanket. Where are you, Pilger, Chomsky, Tariq Ali? Why do you desert your brother Bob so? Have you all followed Nick Cohen and Christopher Hitchens in full retreat from the (imaginary) ramparts?

Then, there's the right. If you're really serious about standing up for democracy, like Bush and Blair and Howard, then Mugabe would represent some low-hanging fruit. No armed forces to speak of (it appears fully occupied suppressing civil society), no sympathetic body of support - he's a godless commie!!! It woulda/coulda/shoulda been cheap 'n' easy to wipe out Mugabe and Send A Clear Signal to his better-entrenched ilk. Kim Jong Il, Ahmedinejad, even Saddam; they'd have all learned the lesson and either made nice or gotten out. A cakewalk, as it were.

Troublesome Africa would be much better governed, and investments there returning much more strongly, had Mugabe gone down for the Greater Good. Zimbabwe has a much stronger tradition of democratic (and, yes, pro-business) government than places like Afghanistan or Iraq. The problems with Chalabi or al-Maliki "going native" wouldn't have applied in poor old Zimbabwe.

By overstating the importance of Saddam Hussein, and ignoring that of Mugabe, it's hard to maintain that the war in Iraq isn't all about another quality that Zimbabwe lacks - a black liquid that President Bush and his most fervent backers refer to as awl.

Zimbabwe really is the shoal on which the rhetoric and the hopes of the world for many in the West are wrecked. Action-oriented problem-solvers dither in the face of an opponent who is not nearly as formidable as he is despicable. This forces those who keen for this benighted land into waiting - for how long, for what desolation will Mugabe leave behind?

While this land is, as it seems, to be exempt from the wider forces sweeping the globe, the certitudes that we apply in our outlook on the world remain inadequate.

11 February 2007

Say it ain't so



The Mulga Bill of the Canberra press gallery has done it again, with a double whammy.

Read this and consider:
  • John Howard has no-one to blame but himself for being "wrong-footed on climate change"

  • Apart from his obvious fondness for Mr Costello, it is not clear why the prospect of a Labor victory is a "disaster", especially when the prospect was given such short shrift mere centimetres above

  • The "newspaper opinion polls" that Jase so breezily brushes aside is the same medum that publishes his columns, which might explain why sales of that medium are trending downward

  • "And if Howard wins but with a significantly reduced majority — in my view the most likely outcome — then Costello will finally become prime minister". Four assumptions there: first, that Howard would give the game away; second, that he would give over to Costello (we've heard that before and it may not be the unalloyed good Jase would imagine); third, that anyone gives a damn what this clown thinks; and fourth, that Labor won't win the next election. He asserts it won't happen but it is the spectre that haunts this column. Speaking of spectres:

  • "Cheney looks like someone from the cast of Night of the Living Dead" - no, he doesn't. Here are some pictures from NOLD, here is a picture of the Vice President of the United States. Similarities?

  • "With humour, flair and style, Costello scored several hits on Rudd ... The backbenchers loved it, with Costello's wit no doubt helping them push towards the backs of their minds any doubts over their political futures prompted by the runaway opinion polls." So? The operative phrase there is Jase's lack of doubt. Parliamentary repartee has no impact on polls, newspaper or actual; Malcolm Fraser regularly bested Hayden and Hawke in the House over 1980-83, but look at the impact that had on the result of that election. Australia's most boring theatre only matters to the press gallery. Where is the marginal Liberal MP so silly that a one-liner counteracts careful policy development and cumulative poll results?

  • "Talking to a handful of Liberal backbenchers last week, I got the feeling that that's exactly what many of them would love to do — if only to stop the investment banks and private equity firms raking in tens of millions of dollars in fees, a consequence of the deal many of them consider with some justification to be nothing less than obscene" - hmm, Liberals against businesses making money, protecting lazy neo-monopolies. Think about it, Jase!

  • "While things don't look good for the Government now, the pressure will gradually build on Rudd to make the case for why Australians should change government" - either that, or Howard's inertia makes him look moribund and Rudd's energy carries him over the line. Just a thought.

  • "Interest rates are trending downwards, employment growth is strong, and inflation appears to be back under control. In these circumstances governments are rarely thrown out." - yeah, just like 1996.

  • "Howard's $10 billion plan to save the Murray-Darling Basin has not been the knockout punch he might have hoped ... given the weakness of Opposition, it's difficult to make policies developed in haste watertight" - it's not just Oppositions that have trouble making hasty policies credible. Indeed, it's the sort of thing that makes a government fritter away its credibility and other advantages of incumbency

Wouldn't you think, Jason? Just once, wouldn't you?

Then there was this effort. What works in Britain doesn't work here, Jase: it doesn't work in most other places either. We have celebrities to slake or lust for prurience, and politicians - despite what you, and they, think - are not celebrities.

The only story in a sex scandal is if one or both parties has a reputation for going on about family values: neither Evans nor Kernot were wowsers. Ross Cameron did that and he turned the 2004 election into a referendum on his own hypocrisy, to Howard's chagrin and Labor's delight.

But this is all about Jase:

  • "Back in 1970, then Army Minister Andrew Peacock was forced to offer his resignation after his then wife Susan appeared in a print advertisement for Sheridan sheets." No, he wasn't. Biographies of Peacock and then-PM Gorton have made it clear that this was entirely a Peacock initiative, the issue wasn't that big and Peacock was widely held to have overreacted.

  • "So what's wrong with us?" - speak for yourself Jase. "Is it that Australian politicians are so morally upright that they don't cheat on their spouses?". Either that or journalists such as yourself are too lazy to dig for stories like that. How about you get, um, on the job and let us know what you find, eh? What do you mean it would be the end of your career?

06 February 2007

NSW politics in 2007 and beyond



At the coming election the Coalition will pick up seats, despite and not because of Peter Debnam.

Labor has governed NSW for all but seven of the past thirty years. They should have fixed the transport, policing and water supply problems to one of the state's fastest-growing regions, the Central Coast. They haven't, so voters there will punish them. Twenty years of work by Chris Hartcher and Mick Gallacher will pay off when the Liberals win Gosford, The Entrance and possibly Wyong.

For independent Chris Holstein to throw his lot in with the Liberals is testament to Hartcher and Gallacher, and an indictment on the dozy ALP in that area. The Coast should not only have its own people as candidates but serve as a breeding ground for Labor candidates throughout the state. If any capable people have attended Labor branch meetings on the Coast, the members there have fought them off successfully.

The two Federal seats on the Central Coast, Robertson and Dobell, are both held by the Liberals. Neither are safe from a good campaign by Rudd and some halfway decent Labor candidates - if any.

Surely the Liberals can't lose Camden and Wollondilly. The gentrification of these areas, transport and water supply should knock Labor right out. The much-vaunted ALP member for Campbelltown should be leading a rearguard action against Liberal advances in southwestern Sydney, but he's alright Jack and will probably get a ministry after Iemma is re-elected.

The northern beaches have had enough of independents and the Liberals have picked good candidates despite themselves. Manly and Pittwater will both go Liberal.

Miranda will probably go Liberal and Port Stephens might. The Nats will pick up Murray-Darling thanks to the Federal Government looking busy on water, and also because the Labor MP is not nearly as hungry as he is thirsty.

If Debnam wasn't such a dud you could talk about:

  • Penrith (Jackie Kelly won't put herself out for anyone else, and she won't keep her seat in the Federal election)

  • Oatley (the Liberals would need an excellent candidate to beat the hard-working Kevin Greene, and they don't have one)

  • Ryde (ditto, John Watkins)

  • Parramatta (the Liberal Party in that area were besotted with Ross Cameron, and when he came a gutser there was nobody left)

  • Kiama (lotsa oldies and middle-class families moving there, same demographics that put Nowra and Bega into the Liberal column)

  • Coogee (same thing with the demographics - the renters who have made this seat safe for Labor over the past three decades have been squeezed out by people earning the sort of money you'd need to buy there)

  • Heathcote (see above two points)

  • Maitland, Cessnock and Charlestown (crusty old working class voters are only going to join their vineyard-owning neighbours in voting Liberal without spectacular plans on education and infrastructure. There isn't - so, as they say in the Hunter, fuck 'em)

  • Drummoyne (the demographics are there, the local MP is a non-entity, but while Labor deserve to lose the state doesn't deserve a Debnam government)

... but he is, so you can't. Brogden would've had these seats in the bag by now (and no, neither Collins nor Chika nor anyone else would).

Greens? No. Independents will hold what they have and may pick up a seat in the Hunter.

Iemma will gloat because gloating is a sign that you don't expect to win, and deep down don't deserve to. He'll lose four ministers (Debus and Nori are retiring, McBride will lose his seat, Hatzistergos has done enough to deserve the sack). Nobody, not even Watkins, can handle both Transport and Police in the long term. Debus' portfolios of AG and Environment will have to be separated.

He'll move David Campbell, Cherie Burton and Reba Meagher into frontline roles. Phil Koperberg would have to take on Emergency Services and Linda Burney would probably go into Community Services. That try-hard from the Tweed, Neville Newell, will probably get something like Sport & Rec. Tripodi should be moved to an area where he can't embarrass himself with his spivvy mates. Hickey should also be punted but if there's one area where Labor is faring worse than the Central Coast, it's the Hunter; Hickey is the man to provide political resources under cover of a ministerial office in that region, provided he doesn't get a ministry that requires a lot of thinking or work. McLeay from Heathcote, a Labor Right scion and not the sharpest intellectual tool, will be shunted into some low-level job. Other, more capable MPs like Virginia Judge or Steve Whan or Tanya Gadiel will have to wait.

When Rudd wins later in the year, jaded state government staffers will rush the exits.

Tripodi will embarrass himself. Roozendaal (Labor's answer to Nick Minchin) will deliver some just-put-up-with-it line akin to Keating's recession-we-had-to-have, and that line will come to define latter Iemma. Much will be said about the ambitions of Reba Meagher but she'll botch it. The issue of missing money at Cherie Burton's office will not kill her career but dog it forever.

If Debnam can survive till Christmas he'll shine - like a cold dead fish washed up on the beach. Some of the weaker journos will do reappraisal profiles on him (not because he's improved but because you can't be a press gallery journo without a relationship with an ensconced Opposition Leader).

Debnam, God help him, will think he's done what Nick Greiner did in 1984: not win but set the Coalition up for next time. The speedo thing follows Ted Baillieu's campaign in Victoria, maximum media impact for minimum outlay of campaign funds. The Libs will be saddled with a dud leader who can't win but can't be gotten rid of, at least not for a little while. Greg Smith will land a few blows against the new Attorney-General but will also attract attention from Labor for all the wrong reasons. Prue Goward and Mike Baird will take a while to find their feet but will have powerful, Turnbull-like impacts on the stagnant pond of state politics. Debnam will come to think he's indestructible. Debnam will downplay Clark because Debnam genuinely underestimates him - even while he eats his nominal leader alive. After all that, he'll be sjamboked by Gallacher.

Chris Hartcher has been in Parliament since 1988. The NSW parliamentary super scheme is structured so that it maxes out at 18 years. Hartcher had been a minister and won't become one again; unlike most politicians he has a rich and interesting personal life and will go off and enjoy it, while Mick Gallacher runs for Terrigal en route to becoming leader.

The Libs have lost state election after state election by banging on about Laura Norder and bugger-all else, and Gallacher will pimp the old girl work for all she's worth. He'll try fill the vacuum after Howard, and will have to work within the gaps between expectations and reality created by Rudd. There will be plenty of Howard government veterans only too willing to help Mick in 2011, and he'll have to know which bits which bits are actually helpful and which aren't.

If it comes to 2010 and Iemma doesn't think he can win, he'll go Federal through the all-but-vacant seat of Fowler.

Update 17 April 2007: Serves me right for underestimating the stupidity of the Liberal Party! Gosford, The Entrance, Wyong, Miranda, Camden and Wollondilly would all go Liberal now that Sorry Morry has shown what he's made of, and O'Farrell has shown that you can't keep a good man down. The clowns in the upper house may yet give him another coating of shit and sink him; Gallacher thinks he's the coming man, bless him, and O'Farrell needs to be on his guard through the mid-term doldrums.

Torbay as Speaker is an interesting stunt, but if the polls go against Iemma he'll lash out and put a hack in that job. We haven't heard the last of Burton or McLeay, and all Labor MPs have a right to feel their ambitions are at hand while Hatzistergos, Tripodi and Nathan Rees (who?) clog the front benches.

05 February 2007

Under the water



The whole reason why Howard announced the water package was so Turnbull couldn’t claim credit for it. Turnbull’s job is to do what he’s told rather than dream the big dreams.

It’s fascinating to consider that when securing access to water, farmers have to pay an organisation which cannot guarantee supply. This is why the amount of water povided in licences exceeds the amount available. Never mind s100 or whatever - this is an act of fraud on the part of state governments. The water licenced out by Queensland is the same water licenced by other states, and none of them can make it rain.

We all agree that water should cost more than it does. “Let’s do it for the market!”, “Let’s do it for the environment!”, “Let’s do it for social justice!” - it all leads us back to paying more for water. Cotton is not a high-value product, and an increase in the cost of inputs will render the whole industry uncompetitive in short order. It will free up money to invest in something that might actually guarantee a high return (ya gotta have your dreams!). Political consensus always gives me the willies and has me checking the exits.

I’m no fan of agrarian socialism, but Australian policy beyond the next election had better be prepared for a whole bunch of country towns to die, an influx of low-skill and not very wealthy people into cities, a spike in unemployment and other symptoms of social dislocation - all in the name of “social justice”, “the environment”, “the market”, or whatever.